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WordPress Themes: What To Look For When Changing?

Suresh 29 responses Blogging

WordPress Themes, as I always feel, is not just about your WordPress design, but also the strength it possesses and it reflects the overall personality of your blog. Thus while choosing a new theme for your WordPress blog, you can’t chase after a feature you’re looking for and select it abruptly. There are some crucial aspects to check and judge to make the perfect decision.

Here, in this post, I’ll discuss about some of the most important points that you need to pay attention to before you buy any new WordPress theme.

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I’ve recently changed the theme of my own blog as well as a couple of other blogs. It was not only because the old theme was worn out; but a change refreshes your readers too! However, the main reason was an issue pointed out by Alexa: my site was too slow! You can afford a lot of things, but a slow blog is unacceptable at any cost!

wordpress themes changing

WordPress Themes: What To Look For When Changing

We are always reluctant to change and when a change is felt necessary, you really need to be very careful and feel the whole ground before actually stepping on. Here are some key points I suggest to help you choose WordPress themes:

1.The Depth of Your Pocket

Obviously! The price of WordPress themes is one of important factor. It may ranges from $22 – $200. You can find some premium WordPress themes even below $22! And Thesis Professional costs $197. Set apart the cost of child themes or skins.

Depending upon your requirement and the depth of your pocket, you should go with the WordPress template that has all the features you need for your new blog.

It took me quite a while before I decided to go for Thesis. One reason, definitely is because I always got other cheaper premium WordPress templates. I wished to purchase Thesis with the money I earned through my blog itself; it must be the second reason. And the third reason was my dilemma – Should I go for Genesis or Thesis, it remained for quite long.

2. Your Wish to Change the World

Most WordPress themes are good enough to use directly out of the box. However, you may need to change the site logo, site name, description, favicon and so on. In some cases you’d like to change the size of sidebars, headers, footers etc. If you are conscious to blog personality, you may wish to use unique color scheme and customize many other things.

WordPress themes offer either of the two methods to customize the look and feel – through codes or through Options Page in dashboard. Make sure which method the theme offers and you are comfortable with that. I’ve seen many people querying for “how to change favicon for ….. theme“.

3. Code Validation

Theme authors are great designers and sometimes really poor coders. Sounds odd? But, I’ve often encountered the dreadful code beneath the awesome look.

They hop around screwing everything up until they achieve the looks as they want. When they forget to check if their code is actually HTML & XHTML valid, the ugly code smiles.

Why is this important?

The invalid codes may cause the browsers render pages incorrectly; even worse is, future browsers may fail to display the important parts of the page.  You can use W3C’s validator to check your new WordPress themes.

4. Cross Browser Compatibility

Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer are the most popular browsers for desktop computers. Most of the WordPress themes are written based on these browsers. Make sure your theme is fine with these browsers.

However, you can’t say what browser your readers will use to access your content. The more browsers your theme supports, the better results you’ll get. But, it won’t be virtually possible to test a theme in all the available browsers in earth. Then, what’s the better workaround?

  1. Grab the demo site (most theme developers offer a demo site to test different features built into it),
  2. Visit Browsershots (lets you test a site on 100+ browsers and different OS combinations)
  3. Paste the demo site URL in “Enter URL Here” box.
  4. Click Search.

You’ll see thumbnails of demo site as it appears on different browsers.

5. Responsive Design

The Internet uses behavior is changing and now the increasing numbers are accessing it using tablets and smart phones. It has been really important for your blog to be mobile-friendly. Make sure the WordPress theme has responsive design.

I’m really loving the Marketers Delight skin over the Thesis 2 theme for my own blog. I’m free to create content and promoting posts without worrying how it will appear on different sized screens. Moreover, when you learn a bit about customizing Thesis, you can make it more usable by placing important parts of your site to displayed first in small screens.

You found a theme and dying fall in love with it, but it does not support responsive design, you’ll risk the traffic loss. The only workaround in such situation will be to use some mobile plugins such as MPTouch or mobile site services such as DudaMobile.

Though the plugins or mobile services offers you some flexibility, I still prefer responsive designs to avoid additional cost.

6. Widgetized Areas

You can’t think about a WordPress theme without any widgets, can you? Widgets lets you add more functionality to your blog and offers you flexibility to manage different content directly from dashboard.

Make sure your theme supports widgets in areas where you plan them to insert. Sidebar and footer are the common areas. So, to check if the new WordPress theme has widgetized areas in those places, you can inspect sidebar.php and footer.php files.

7. Template Files

Depending upon for what the theme is optimized, you’ll find some special page templates in new WordPress themes. These templates will save your time when you need specific pages such as landing pages, sales pages, squeeze page and so on. If you plan to have these pages in your blog, check to see  your theme has them already.

Apart from special pages, you should ensure that the WordPress theme has all common templates. I hope, it already contains:

  • home.php (for front page),
  • single.php (for post pages),
  • page.php (for pages),
  • archive.php (for archive pages),
  • category.php (for category pages),
  • author.php (essential when your blog is multi-authored),
  • date.php (for date-wise archive).

And finally, check if it has 404.php. This page is returned when users lands on some non-existing posts in your blog. You can customize this page to make it most usable if required.

8. Site Name & Title

Check how the new WordPress theme handles the site name and titles. You can find this information by inspecting in header.php file. In between <head> and </head> find the tag <title> and </title>. Check what it has included in between those title tags.

If your theme has:

<title><?php bloginfo('name') ?> <?php wp_title() ?></title>

You better change it to:

<title><?php wp_title() ?> <?php bloginfo('name') ?></title>

Why this change?

Organic traffic are most important to any blog and you should optimize every bits of your blog construct to ensure the maximum traffic from SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). Title tag is one of the prominent factors search engines look into to determine the relevancy of a page against search query.

When you have wp_title() before the bloginfo('name'), you make front room available for main keywords. I’m sure you inject the main keywords in title tags, don’t you?

9. You Need Some Hooks in WordPress Themes

WordPress has a lot of hooks to  perform their designated tasks such as adding some extra output, inserting tracking codes, and so on. If the theme author forgets to insert the required hooks, you’ll face a lot of unnecessary issues with plugins. So, it is always wise to check for them before you actually install it for your blog.

How can you make sure if hooks are inserted in theme files?

Open header.php file and check if it contains:




Similarly check if your footer.php file contains:




The comments.php file should contain:

<?php do_action('comment_form', $post->ID); ?>

10. What About Credit Links?

Credit Links are very frequent with best free WordPress themes. As a form of payment, the theme author places one, two or three links on the footer. Are you happy to offer the link back instead of theme price?

As per the license agreement, you can’t remove the credit links and often, there’s no harm to reward the theme author with a couple of link back. However, there’s a catch and you should be aware of it.

Many SEO companies hired theme authors to create nice themes and they are distributed for free to the wider public. This way, the companies spread the client’s links throughout blogosphere. The real problem is visible when these links point to some bad sites. Thus, you are suggested to check all the outgoing links from the theme. Make sure they point to the proper credit and not to the illegal or low quality websites.

I wait for your comments hoping that these 10 points help you to choose perfect WordPress theme for you new blog.

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  1. Oloyede Jamiu

    Hi Suresh,Wow this article is splendid. I think you have been about to touch the aspects of a theme we have to look for before choosing it for our blog. One of the most important aspect of it is the browser compatibility. With the use of Browsershots as you have explained above, i think this aspect is gone. Thanks for the comment. Its really helpful and inspiring.

    1. I’m glad you find it useful. We can have some tools to make our life easier and Browsershots is my favorite one to preview theme in different environment.

      Thank you Oloyede for the comment. I truly appreciate it and hope you shared the post in your social netowrks. :)

  2. Purbita Ditecha

    One of the great tutorial on WordPress theme ever I have read from you ! However one query here ” WP themes are normally over optimized , is it true ?”
    I have read it some where but forget the links , please elaborate it !

    1. Hi Pubita,

      By optimized, I guess you are talking about search engine optimized. Themes certainly can do great to help your on-page search engine optimization. But to the extreme that they’ll harm your ranking for over-optimization, I won’t blame themes. It will be your SEO practices to over-do the optimization.

      Because WordPress platform and themes are already much optimized, you can care only a few bits to ensure your blog is easily readable and indexable by bots. I take it as pro rather than caution!

      Thank you for the comment here. I truly appreciate you for sharing the post.

  3. Ramiro

    Hello suresh khanal ji
    Its really impressive article to choose wp theme for blog and other type of webpage.suprub article for wordpress blogger or freelancer I like your article I will back again.keep it up.

    1. Thank you Ramiro for the visit and your inspiring comment. YOu are most welcome and hope to see you quite often


  4. Nwosu Desmond

    My most important points remains validation and responsiveness of a theme, as web designing has become responsive one should always use only responsive themes on one’s site as its benefits are enormous. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That’s very true Nwosu. If your codes are clean and HTML valid, you’ll save form a lot of problem in future. Now, for anybody willing to buy a new theme, I’d strongly suggest to go for responsive themes.

  5. I like your breakdown here Suresh. Simply learning a bit more about technical elements of blogging helps one reach their ultimate goals quickly. I made big blogging breakthoughs by learning a bit more about themes, in the past and today. Thanks!

    1. Such an inspiring comment. I truly appreciate this Ryan.

      I really envy your long working hours and huge production you make every day.                                                                                 .

  6. Really an useful stuff linked to worpress :)

    Am new to WordPress and slowing learning its features and plugins. I learned a lot through your post and specifically with the 9th point. Will check it now!

    Thanks for writing the information in your clear language, hope it is understandable even for the non WP users. Am stumbled with your writing skill Suresh, keep writing for your readers :)

    1. Thank you Nirmala for the comment. Glad that you find the post useful.

      While writing I wished to make it comprehensible to the non-techy friends too. I am more than happy to know that non-WP users too can get something from it.

      I truly appreciate your sharing this post over social networks. True friends are always most valuable!

  7. Marilyn Cada

    thank you for sharing complete details when choosing WP themes. i also purchased my theme as part of the micro niche formula package though i am planning to change it. however, i am quite anxious because some features of my original theme might disappear

    1. Marily,

      Customized themes (and even better if custom themes) are best solution for any blog if you can afford it. If not, it is always good to learn some skills to edit themes or have someone who can modify the theme to include required features. It will always be hard to find ideal themes but I hope if you get something satisfying the points I’ve discussed here, that must suit your blog.

  8. Rahul Verma

    Thanks for the tips Suresh. . Whenever I try searching a new theme for my ongoing or upcoming project, I never get what I really want. But now I will keep these points in mind while doing my next search. :)

    1. Yes Rahul, it is always a very hard job to find perfect theme, but if you can get something that has most of the required features, I hope, you can customize and edit some aspects to best suite your requirement.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. I’m using Genesis framework and eleven40 theme. Eleven40 is a responsive theme. And Genesis is a SEO optimized theme.

    My blog’s theme has 15 errors and 18 warnings! Thanks for reminding me to validate HTML.

    I have seen some links pointing to some bad sites in some free themes and it is dofollow! It’s better to avoid using those themes.

    Really a wonderful post :)

    1. Suresh Khanal

      Thank you Sriram for the comment. When you have responsive child theme, its already a great choice. Yes, Genesis is search engine optimized framework, really beautiful one. However you need to try to solve those errors. Most often, it may be due to the plugins and customization you make in theme.

  10. Hi
    This Post is very much helpful for newbies like me. As i’m now on WordPress i am concentrating on all points which you have mentioned. I need more experience to get use to WordPress :) Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Welcome to WordPress world, Sriram. I’m sure you’ll enjoy blogging in next level with WordPress. I really love the flexibility and the extendability of WordPress against any other blogging platform.
      My best wishes are with you.

  11. Rajesh Namase

    Resourceful post, you’ve covered all the points that we should think before buying the theme. Theme look, features and price these are the main things we first look at. Will consider other points too.

    1. Thank you Rajesh. I really appreciate your comment here. It means much to me.                                                                                                                                .

  12. Emmanuel

    Hi Mr. Khanal,
    Nice seeing you here with your usual thing. Producing quality posts as always.
    I see themes as more or less the life wire to any blog.
    Just like Ryan, I also do like your breakdown as well.

    1. Thank you Emmanuel for the visit and your comment here. I agree, themes determine huge in your blogging success.                                                                                                 .

  13. Subash Poudel

    Enjoyed reading.
    I would like to add:
    and one more thing to look at before choosing a new theme is “How much excess code and images does the design uses?” Some themes uses a lot of extra code and large images which makes site load slower.

    1. Hi Subash,

      You raised a great point here. Excess code and improper size of uploaded image files can slow down the blog loading speed.

      Thank you for adding value in conversion.

  14. Chadrack

    You’ve really touched an area many bloggers never talk about. Personally, any time I change a new theme I do most of these things. In fact, I most times re-work the theme look to make it really unique and this has helped me to better understand how these themes really work. Most bloggers will not go into a this trouble so it would be a more better option if developers will take their time when building these themes.

    1. Thank you Chadrack for the comment. If you know some coding, it is much easier to pick the best themes. Most of the bloggers are not good to play with codes, so, as you said, this is the area theme developers should work better. Most of the professional themes will care but it is always good to make sure of it.

  15. It’s really an awesome guide for theme selection.
    I’m new on WP and really need a good theme but I have no budget to buy theme now. Sir, please help me with any good theme if you have.
    Thanks a lot for your support :)